Wednesday, December 01, 2004

THE PLEASURE OF HUNTING

Barefoothippy made some very kind and tactfully inquisitive comments about my hunting story on my Xanga site and I appreciate them. I thought I'd respond here instead of in the comment section since I suspect my response will be longish.

For the first question: I don't actually know if ghosting is a verb, but verbing nouns is one of my favorite things to do with words and it often seems to work.

For the second, since the question was not about the legitimacy of hunting per se, but about my taking pleasure in it, I'll try to explain from that angle. It's not really a he-man thing, nor even a male thing that females don't get, it's more like a cultural thing, I think. My grandparents (and so on back for many Irish generations) on my father's side were poor (though they never thought of it that way) were country people, not city people, and you lived the best you could by the land, farming and hunting, not by markets and shops. There weren't any where they lived, and they didn't have enough money to shop in them anyway. Hunting was simply part of life - a way to keep the family alive. So my father grew up with that mindset, that a man hunts to feed his family, to be responsible, to do what a father and husband is supposed to do. My father became much better off than his father, but when I was young, money was still tight and economic responsibility included saving money by hunting. My dad taught me to hunt so we could add more meat to the freezer, but now there was also the additional pleasure of heritage: it was part of the culture of our family (true of many, many familes in the western U.S. and maybe the Eastern too, I don't know), being out in the woods in the fall, bringing in meat for the family, hearing stories about my grandfather and his relatives and hunting buddies.

Like my father now, I don't really need the meat anymore - I doubt if I save much money by hunting (sometimes I do, often I don't), but I hunt with my father every year, he's my hunting partner, and we both look forward to the autumn hunts because we love the woods and we enjoy each other's company, and that pleasure transfers to all the parts of our hunt. It makes putting on my boots a delight. It makes stepping out of the pickup on a frosty hill before dawn a pleasure. It makes the cold sandwich from the backpack the best food you ever ate. It makes the stalking a thrill.

I don't take pleasure in the death of the deer. It doesn't bother me, but it's not what gives me pleasure. We have deer on our own farm that we never shoot, nor allow others to, because we love seeing them around. I don't object to killing animals - God gave them to us for food - but the pleasure of stalking them is not the pleasure of looking forward to their deaths. I give thanks for the successful hunt and the meat, but it doesn't please me that death must be part of it. It's the pleasure of doing something well that I've learned from my fathers, the pleasure of being responsible and competent enough to provide for my family (metaphorically, now, probably, since I really do the providing by teaching), the pleasure of the winter woods and and the silence and the warm clothes and feeling secure and capable and prepared with my little pack full of matches, knife, water, rope, folding saw, gloves, extra clothes, etc. It's the pleasure of maintaining the ability *if I had to* to feed my family. Of being able to shoot well, because shooting has been a valuable skill for men all through history and it doesn't come without practice and use. It's the pleasure of carrying on something that was very important to many generations of my family for very practical reasons.

About the man/woman thing, this is something the women of families like mine understand too because they're part of the culture and know that their guy is providing. The man is demonstrating that he can secure his family, and women want security from their men. Women don't respect men who cannot provide security for them and their children. Women may not understand perfectly the pleasure men take in hunting, just as men may never know completely the pleasure women take in the things they do so well in the home or whatever, but that doesn't mean that neither can appreciate the pleasure the other takes in doing the job that has been given them. I love that my wife takes such good care of the home, though I'll never know the pleasure she feels in shopping and cooking and so on, and she loves how I take care of my family by working and hunting and so on, though she would never take the same pleasure in it. She understands, even though she doesn't have the same feelings.

This is me - I don't know that all hunters would say the same things. I have the feeling that there are many hunters who do hunt for the sole purpose of bringing down game. But that's them. I feel the same way about fishing. I enjoy catching and bringing home and eating the fish, but the real pleasure for me and many of the fisherman I know is the joy of being on a cool morning stream in the woods, or along a beach standing in the surf, reading the water and learning what it has to say about the animals in it and their habits; it's the pleasure of trying to be artful with a long rod and a graceful fly line arcing over your head in the still air, the beauty of the little bitty artificial flies that are an artform in themselves, the beauty of the critters you're trying to outwit, the pleasure of accomplishment vaguely related to the fact that you can bring home a tasty dinner, the pleasure of feeling (whether you're right or not is another question, lol) that you're proving you could survive in the wilds, that you don't *need* the stupid grocery store, that you actually are part of the natural world and can live in it by your wit, and you' don't have to put up with aisles and checkout counters and plastic bags. There are aesthetic and physical and even moral pleasures that could come from nothing else.

There's nothing like the feel of the wool hunting clothes or the cool little gadgets hanging from your fly vest, or a well-built tool like a solidly-made rifle or strong yet lightweight fly rod, and the feeling is partly related to the fact that man through his cool tools is exercising his dominion mandate. A responsible man will know that he is doing what God told him to do, and yet he will also recognize that he must do it responsibly and must learn and try to gain wisdom from it - you don't hunt or fish out of bloodlust, you don't shoot all the animals, you also take care of them. You don't make noise in the woods, you walk *in* them, not *through* them. You don't talk except when necessary, and then you do it quietly. You don't walk heavily, you watch your feet and feel the twigs and don't make them snap. You learn how animals behave, where they walk, what they feed on, what makes them tick. You learn about other men by watching them hunt, you learn about weather by feeling the air and watching the sky and listening to the wind and observing the animals. You learn why squirrels yell at you and you learn patience when you feel like shooting them for tattling on you to the whole forest. You don't throw your sandwich baggie on the ground. You leave guts for other animals to feed on, but you take home what won't fit in or get used or break down. You learn how to dress warm and why wool is better than cotton in cold weather and snow or rain, you learn why layering is better than one heavy coat. You learn how proteins and carbohydrates are better for sustaining enery and internal warmth than simple sugars. You learn how to stay upwind and how to control your human smell (you can't, really). You learn the smell of wet cedar, of pine, of sage. You discover how loud jet aircraft are even 30,000 feet up, and how loud cars on a highway 5 miles away still are. You realize how loud your own breathing is in the woods, and how quiet the woods must be ALL the time, and you wonder what it would be like to live in that kind of quiet all your life. You think about distance, trajectory, windage, and you learn about animal anatomy by thinking about where to shoot them so they go down fast and don't suffer overmuch. You examine their entrails and see what they've been eating and you learn what innards look like in an animal nearly your own size and you wonder about your own guts. You learn how to navigate, read a map and compass, find your way, not get lost, how to get out when you do inevitably get lost, what plants might not be all that tasty but won't kill you and which ones will.

My father taught me more than I'll ever know and as I write I begin to realize how much he used the tradition of hunting to teach me many things that don't have directly to do with hunting. This is all part of pleasure it gives me. As I said, this is not a defense of the practice of hunting, because that wasn't the question. It's only an attempt to describe and maybe explain what the pleasure in hunting is for me. I can't speak for other men, although I'll bet most would agree.

Sorry for the length of this. I hope it helps, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to write more about it.